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Bruce Coville's Book of Spine Tinglers
The Thing in Auntie Alma’s Pond
by
Bruce Coville

Water.

Margaret hated water.

So why was she standing at the edge of Auntie Alma’s pond, staring at the black water as if she could see more than a few inches past the murky surface?

As if she were looking for something.

A dragonfly flickered past her, the light on its wings startling her out of her thoughts.

She raised her eyes to look again at the little rowboat that floated in the middle of the pond. Why is it anchored there? she wondered uneasily. It seemed strange to see it caught between the banks like that, not free to drift to one side or the other.

Margaret shrugged. Probably one of her cousins had done it. They were always playing pranks like that.

Still, it would be nice if a few of the cousins were around now. Auntie Alma’s place was too quiet without them. Margaret sighed. She wished the rowboat was back on the shore, where she could get at it. If the cousins were here, she might be able to talk one of them into swimming out to get it for her.

Margaret turned and started back toward the house. It would be a long time before she forgave her parents for leaving her here like this. The separation had been bad enough. Now, to “work on getting back together,” they had shoved her off on Auntie Alma… left her here to rot for the summer while they tried to find themselves, or some such thing.

Why didn’t they try to find her, instead? She had been feeling lost for some time now. And being exiled from her home and friends like this was no help.

Margaret kicked savagely at a silver dandelion, setting its seeds free to float away on the summer breeze. If her parents did have to send her away for the summer, couldn’t they have found some place besides Auntie Alma’s? Sure, it was out in the country, and the fresh air was probably good for her. But there was no one around to play with, no one to even talk to except Auntie Alma, who wasn’t her real aunt anyway, for heaven’s sake, just an old friend of the family.

A really old friend, if you wanted to get right down to it, thought Margaret unkindly. Indeed, white-haired Alma Jefferson was a truly ancient collection of crotchets and wrinkles. She had a huge, hairy mole on her chin that Margaret found simultaneously fascinating and repugnant. Her hearing was bad, her eyes were weak, and she put her teeth in a glass on the kitchen shelf every night. Margaret especially hated that. Something about the sight of those false parts soaking in their cold water always made her shiver.

Stop it, she told herself, as she went through the back door of the house. You’re being cruel.

In fact, stopping to think about it Margaret remembered how much she had loved Auntie Alma when she, Margaret, was younger—how when she was frightened she would throw her arms around the old woman’s waist and whisper, “I’m always safe with you.

That memory made it all the more painful when Margaret entered the kitchen and saw the slight look of disappointment that flickered across Auntie Alma’s face.

Though the expression vanished almost instantly, it stabbed Margaret to the heart. I guess she doesn’t want me around either, the girl thought bitterly. Probably she was hoping I’d drown while I was out at the pond.

Margaret shuddered at the thought, which she knew was unkind. The thing was, she had been afraid of Auntie Alma’s pond for as long as she could remember, which wouldn’t have been so bad, if not for the fact that everyone else in the family seemed to think it was the most wonderful place in the world.

How they had teased her for not wanting to go in, for drawing back from its cool, murky waters. ”For heaven’s sakes, Margaret, come on in and cool off,“ her mother would exclaim from the water on those hot summer afternoons when they came here to escape the city. ”You like the pool in town. What’s wrong with this?“

But Margaret could never explain her fear of the pond, the sense of nameless dread that seized her whenever she stood on its grassy bank and imagined stepping down into the black water.

The feeling that something was waiting for her there.



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